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Sonic.net builds super-fast network for future

  • Sonic.net network technician Juston Pearce uses a fusion splicer to connect fiber optic cables in Sebastopol on Monday morning, April 30, 2012. Sonic.net is expanding its fiber-to-the-home network.

On a small, quiet street in Sebastopol, in a neighborhood better known for its eclectic sculptures than for early adopters of the hottest technologies, residents are surfing the Internet at some of the fastest speeds available in the country.

Sonic.net, the Santa Rosa-based Internet provider, has strung a network of fiber-optic cables delivering Internet speeds up to 1 gigabyte per second, about 100 times faster than most household Internet connections.

The company is expanding the network's reach to about 700 homes in Sebastopol within the next month, and plans are underway for a total of 2,000 Sebastopol homes and a similar number in San Francisco over the next few years.

So far, about 60 Sebastopol households are online with fiber, and Sonic.net is asking roughly a quarter of the price charged by its competitors, which include national giants like Verizon and Comcast.

The hometown company's pioneering strides in high-speed Internet are welcome in a market where the U.S. lags behind other countries in speed and affordability.

The higher speeds enable video conferencing, telemedicine and — perhaps more importantly — faster downloading and smoother viewing on websites like Netflix and Hulu.

Sebastopol is just the beginning, and where the company brings its fiber next will depend on how the product is received, said Dane Jasper, co-founder and CEO of Sonic.net.

"If we find that consumers take it up, then we will use that as a guide for our continued investment in the fiber network," Jasper said. "We have to think about, how are we going to get more people on board with this? And we want to remove any barriers that we can."

Founded in 1994, Sonic.net has grown into the largest independent Internet service provider in Northern California, with more than 40,000 customers, Jasper said. The company has 150 employees, up 50 percent from last year, Jasper said.

Today, Sonic.net provides services in cities throughout the Bay Area, and is continuing to expand its reach by building its copper broadband network in communities around Sacramento and Los Angeles.

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